Ah, Thursday night — the only truly social night of the week. Last week we got a mountain high in Aspen, and before that, we were El Bulli-ish in Barcelona. This week we’re presenting the perfect Thursday night in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
It’s the night when babysitters are booked, friends convene and drinks are imbibed. There are no family obligations to fulfill, no amateurish weekend crowds to elbow through — and the possibilities are endless. The night starts after work and ends whenever you want. In any city. All over the world.
Sunset on the beach in Fort Lauderdale (Photo: Timothy Wildey/Flickr)
With more than 7 miles of dazzling beaches and the walkable Las Olas Boulevard connecting the beach to downtown, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is a relaxing destination whether you’re in town for a cruise-ship stopover, a shopping binge, or just a night of chill partying away from South Beach. It’s not as overheated as adjacent Miami, which dances to a faster beat, and that’s a big part of the point.
A Florida tourist attraction surpassed by only Disney World, Sawgrass Mills is the largest outlet mall in America. There are shuttles that take you there from the beach, and it’s just 15 miles from the Fort Lauderdale airport, prompting many visitors to make this their last stop on their way out of town. Some end up buying another suitcase for their haul and/or running to their cars when they realize their flight is leaving in about an hour.
Sawgrass Mills (Photo: Bob B. Brown/Flickr)
It’s a lot less stressful to go when you’re not in a hurry. And while it’s hard to game-plan a mall with more than 350 stores, here are two tips: 1) Skip the shops you can easily find elsewhere; and 2) Head straight to the Colonnade, where you’ll find Barneys, Armani, Prada, Ferragamo, Valentino, and Burberry — luxury items often discounted 50 percent or more from retail.
Related: Thursday Night in Venice Beach
Woman getting a massage (Photo: Thinkstock)
If shopping isn’t your bag, you can visit the W Fort Lauderdale for a massage at one of the world’s only Bliss Spas with poolside treatments. Or stroll the beach on your way to the waterfront S3 Restaurant, the new sceney spot brought to you by the un-ironic restaurant/bar group that also runs Las Olas Boulevard’s hot YOLO restaurant and O Lounge. S3 stands for “Sun Surf Sand,” so sit at the indoor/outdoor bar or sidle up to a fire pit, snack on sushi nachos, and grab a beachy cocktail (maybe a banana colada or a berry mojito) while you take in the water views and the approaching sunset.
Hawaiian poke tuna tower (Photo: David Kosmos Smith/Flickr)
Las Olas Boulevard has plenty of boutique shopping, spas and sidewalk cafes, but maybe the best reason to visit is American Social, the bar/restaurant with two self-serve beer-tap tables where you can pour your own craft brews. But don’t let this gimmick fool you: With food like foie gras sliders, a seafood mac ’n’ cheese skillet, and a Hawaiian poke tuna tower, this is a good destination for a casual yet hearty dinner as well.
If you’re looking for a more upscale meal, Eduardo de San Angel, a 15-minute drive north, serves stellar south-of-the-border cuisine using local ingredients and modern technique. This is widely regarded as one of the country’s finest Mexican restaurants, and everything from the gulf shrimp ceviche, stir-fried spinach with imported brie, and blue crab corn cakes to the Colorado lamb chops brushed with cilantro-garlic oil is a display of chef Eduardo Pria’s confidence and skill in taking the cuisine he grew up with to new heights.
Martini (Photo: Thinkstock)
You can keep dinner’s buzz going on Las Olas Boulevard at Royal Pig Pub, an always crowded bar/restaurant with its own formidable craft beer list and cocktails including the Filthy Pig, a Ketel One martini with a bacon-wrapped and blue cheese-stuffed olive.
Or groove to disco, funk, and pop classics at new mixology bar Stache, which has launched Throwback Thursdays, a retro dance party with DJs spinning songs from the ’50s through the ’90s. But in terms of cocktails, Stache bills itself as an “1920s drinking den” and serves carefully made classics like a French 75, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, and Pimm’s Cup along with more modern concoctions like the Passion 76 (Zonin prosecco, passion fruit, cinnamon) and Honey-Thyme Collins (Spring 44 honey vodka, thyme, fresh lemon juice, soda). You’ll have time to sample a few drinks. The party goes until 4 a.m. here.
Andy Wang covered Florida real estate and travel for a decade at the New York Post. He owns two pairs of purple sneakers purchased at Sawgrass Mills.